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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ancient Shells and Building on what we Already Know

One of my favorite places my family and I went to on our recent vacation was the Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.  It was the first of the Smithsonian museums that we were able to see, and I was in absolute awe the minute I walked in the door with my husband and my two kids.

I was so excited, I started taking pictures right away.   I was taking as much in as my little brain could handle, reading all the little information cards and doing my best to commit the information to memory.  

"Look, kids...this is a blah, blah, blah!  And look at this, isn't that interesting?"

My husband, who had been to the Museum of Natural History before was shaking his head.  "Ah, Jo-Ann...this is just the small stuff, are you sure you don't want to move along and see some of the bigger stuff?

But I didn't want to miss anything and I was determined to take it all in!  I loved these ancient fossilized shells!  They were so beautiful!  

The artist in my was creating mixed media collages in my head.  Here is a mixed media painting that I created this week.  It is 8 x 8 x 1.5 inches on gallery wrapped canvas.  

 These ancient shells are call ammonites.  They look very much like shelled nautiloids but are actually more closely related to octopus, squid and cuttlefish.   Very similar to a nautilus, however, they grow and move into a larger chamber which has grown ahead of it.  It adds newer and larger chambers to the open end of the coil and grows like this until it has reached maturity. 

I love how David Weber of Thou relates the nautilus shell to life

And therein is the story of everything else. A baby is born with an infant’s consciousness: everything, beginning with Mom, is an extension of itself. As a 1 to 2 year, the toddler begins to understand the distinct nature of itself. The second level of consciousness supercedes the first, even as it is wholly built upon it. Cognitive abilities continue to increase as the child grows older: from the manipulation of its environment to the complete separation of its personality from parents and others, to an always heightening understanding of cause and effect, then adopting a social self, a critical self, a self-critical self. Each point in the process is built upon the previous one, and is always a part of the previous state of consciousness and understanding
The whole is a result of previous and lesser sized parts, one built upon the other. No part loses its significance, even as its specific usefulness ha been transcended.
An acorn becomes a shoot, becomes a sapling, becomes a young tree, becomes a mature oak. Everything about the acorn is still a part of the great oak tree, but has been transformed and functions as a much larger and much more complex part of the tree’s wholeness.


  1. Oh I just LOVE your mixed media piece. It is stunning. I am forever entranced by nautilus/ammonite shells. It's like a labyrinth. There is something seductive and innocent in its beauty. Thank you for sharing your inspiration and new art!

  2. Thanks so much, Theresa :-) They are so beautiful and mesmerizing, aren't they?


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